Project 1.1: Natural Landscape

A Landscape Waiting: overview and assessment

For this project I decided to use a part of the River Cam just down the road from my house for this project. I love the the flat landscape in February with its grey skies and skeletal trees. At this time of year it is particularly evocative of the glowering Dutch watercolour landscapes of artists like Van Goyen, and the etchings and drawings of Rembrandt and Van Gogh. I was aiming to convey a mood, appreciation for the beauty in this very human landscape waiting for Spring. This is part of my romantic and rather wishful relationship to my local landscape – there are only brief periods of the day when this part of the path are free from cyclists madly and blindly coaching rowers from the University and town rowing clubs.

I decided to focus on a monochrome image in stone lithography, inspired by the dramatic depiction of light and shade in French lithographs by artists like Corot. Lithography is a responsive painterly printmaking medium that can produce the dynamic mark-making and tonal contrasts suggested by my initial sketches – to contrast with the hard-ground etching I had in mind for Project 1.2 Urban Landscapes. Lithography was also a new medium for me and so  fulfilled a course aim of extending my range of printmaking media.

A Landscape Waiting. Lithograph.
A Landscape Waiting. Lithograph.

Parts of the print on the path and river are a bit messy (see my marked up assessment of a print from my sketchbook  below). My attempts to include a cycling figure as a more realistic concession to ‘human interest’ were rather clumsy and so I omitted them at the printing stage. Lithographic drawing is a bit nerve-racking in not allowing for any mistakes in either line or tone.

Overall I find this image successful in portraying my own rather idealised feeling for this landscape – its softness, expanse and quiet beauty. Even with a monochrome print I was able to produce a print edition with subtle differences in tonal contrast,  through slightly varying the inking balance between the foreground and distance. Although though not as much variation as is possible from etching or drypoint plates. The expansiveness of the format as well as the painterly mark-making contrast well with the much smaller and more enclosed claustrophobic linear feel of the etching of my urban landscape in Project 1.2.

It is ‘A Landscape Waiting’ in a number of ways. My original intention, through expressive marks together with the light in the sky and on the fields, was to give a restrained energy of a winter landscape waiting for Spring. But its very emptiness of people is another type of waiting – a snatched ephemeral moment of peace before the deluge of rowers and cyclists in whose interests the whole landscape is managed would come and destroy the tranquillity an hour later.

Developing the image

I love the flat landscape of the River Cam in February with its moody skies and skeletal trees. Although I had drawn, painted and photographed this part of the river before in different seasons, there are always endless possibilities of viewpoint, and different ways of interpreting the scene in different print media. When I started this project it was early February 2017, just as the very first glimpses of Spring were emerging.

Sketches

I began by making three quick sketches of the same scene from different perspectives – following the task instructions. I could have done many more than this. But three were enough to give me a range of possible ideas.

I then did longer line and tonal studies of slightly different views.

I also took photos on my iPad in February when the scene was generally grey and moody, then again in early Spring at the end of March when there was a much lighter misty feel and some green leaves beginning to show. I converted these to black and white to see the tonal effects.

Inspiration

Before definitively deciding on lithography and a ‘Dutch’ approach I  looked at looked at landscapes by painters like Monet, Cezanne, Egon Schiele,David Hockney and Kurt Jackson to think a bit outside the box. I did Google searches on landscape in different print media and started Pinterest Boards of:

I followed up with further research on printmakers who had done landscapes I liked, particularly:

I also reviewed some of the landscape prints I had done in Printmaking 1, when I had experimented with different types of monoprint, soft foam and foam board, linocut, chine colle and collagraph (See Landscape on my Printmaking archive site).

But my vision for this February print still came back to Dutch landscape paintings, sketches and printsI had seen in the van Boijman’s gallery in Rotterdam on various visits and/or in storage on their website. Particular inspirations are watercolours of Van Goyen, Van Ruisdale and Rembrandt etchings and Van Gogh landscape drawings. (see Post: 1: Landscape Visions) 

Considering printmaking method and format

The view in my sketches could have been adapted in different ways for any of the above techniques. And fully exploring this range of possibilities in different seasons is something I plan to do in future.

But for this project I wanted to try a new medium – as this was one of my aims in this course. At the same time – as lithography allows a range of styles and markmaking – I aimed to draw on some of the stylistic features of line and tone I had developed earlier in my sketches ie a soft painterly approach to reflect the softness and tonal variety of the landscape itself, and to contrast with my planned etchings of the urban landscape.

In planning the final print I thought carefully about possible composition (See post on Landscape Composition). Manipulating the sketches and photographs in Adobe Lightroom I considered format – should it be the conventional ‘landscape’ format? If so how long? Portrait or square format like many of the paintings of Kurt Jackson. I considered compositional issues like the positioning of the horizon and verticals – whether these should be at half or thirds way, whether they should be regular or in what way they might vary.

The final print edition

The print itself was done at a lithography workshop with Lisa Wilkens and Thomas Cert at Curwen Print Studio where they have the necessary equipment and a lithography press. For technical aspects of the stone lithography process and techniques see videos in my post Lithography on this blog.

I decided on the largest stone available and a landscape format that seemed to fit my sketches well.

The inked stone block
The inked stone block

I did a series of proofs on newsprint to properly set the ink in the plate, and then a print on cartridge paper.

River Cam lithograph final assessment
My assessment of the first print in the edition.

When I assessed this first version of the lithograph (see annotations on print above from Sketchlog 1) there were a number of issues – some of which could be corrected:

  • an issue with the press because there was an unevenness of the print in the top right
  • my attempt to do a figure on the left was very clumsy. But it was possible to stop this out.

Some of the other drawing of the shadows on the path, water reflections, shadows in different directions etc were also a bit clumsy – partly because I had not observed and sketched in enough detail in my preparation. These I could not correct, but only crop out as smaller prints.

There were also subtle variations in ink contrast and detail through different emphasis in inking that could to some extent de-emphasise the things I did not like. These can be seen in my sketchbook but do not show well on-line.

My selection of the best final print from the edition after corrections to the plate had been made.

 

Alternative crops and further development

With the unsuccessful prints – rather than just throw them away – I experimented with alternative crops with different focuses and effects to explore different compositional possibilities that I might use in future.

Final reflections on title and meaning

Overall I find this image successful in portraying the feel of the landscape – its softness and expanse. I think the expansiveness of the format as well as the painterly mark-making of lithography contrast well with the much smaller and more enclosed claustrophobic feel of the etching of my urban landscape in Project 1.2.

My original concept was really more a ‘mood’ than ‘meaning’ – appreciation for the beauty in this very human landscape waiting for Spring. The title changed several times: ‘river’, ‘trees’ etc. But as I thought further I realised this was not really a ‘natural’ landscape. Everything in the image represents ‘nature managed’: the river has been banked up specially for rowers, the path has been laid with hard core for their accompanying cyclists, the posts are periodically smeared with paint by the winning college and the willows are regularly pollarded for safety as much as the health of the trees. This is part of my romantic and rather wishful relationship to my local landscape – there are only brief periods of the day when this part of the path are free from cyclists madly and blindly coaching rowers from the University and town rowing clubs. This ‘natural landscape’ is therefore only temporary – waiting for the human invasion.

Sources

See overview of approaches to landscape in 1: Landscape Visions

and particularly:

Bikker, J., Webber, G. J. M., Wiesman, M. W. & Hinterding, E., (2014) Rembrandt: the late works, London: National Gallery.

Hauptman, J., (2016) Degas: A Strange New Beauty, New York: MoMA.

Heugten, S. V., (2005) Van Gogh draughtsman: the masterpieces, Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum.

Logan, A.-M., (1988) Dutch and Flemish Drawings and Watercolours, New York: Hudson Hills Press.

Porzio, D. (ed.) (1982) Lithography: 200 years of art, history & technique, London: Bracken Books.

Stechow, W., (1966) Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century, New York: Phaidon Publishers.

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